Sunday, January 10, 2010

Manipur’s Journey of Downfall

Are we moving forward or backward? This is one question haunting Yenning for the past one week since the dawn of the New Year. We are really proud to inherit the legacy of a nation that has written history of its own spanning over 2000 years. Nevertheless, we are ashamed of the many things happening in this little State. From sovereignty to colonialism, from monarchy to democracy, from feudalism to republic, from Part C State to full-fledged statehood, Manipur has undergone unprecedented changes in the course of its history during the last 100 years. But the dynamics of contemporary Manipuri history is rather disappointing. From a politically independent and economically self-reliant sovereign kingdom, Manipur, in the last 60 years, has been reduced to the status of a completely dependent and parasitic position, surviving at the mercy of New Delhi. Political degeneration, economic marginalization, moral decadence and administrative corruption mark our contemporary history. Drug abuse and associated issue of HIV/AIDS has added another dark chapter to this chequered history. Murder of small kids for ransom by armed gangs, drug addicts killing children just to take their trifling ear-rings (for a much needed shot), acceptance of bribery/corruption as a normal norm, putting price tags on each and every (government) job, extortion by UG cadres as well as security personnel, bombing hospitals by so-called revolutionary organisations and election of the most corrupt and morally depraved ones to the State Assembly paints a painful picture on contemporary canvas of Manipur.
How Manipur degraded from a healthy, sovereign nation to a critically sick, fallen State is a pertinent question each and every responsible citizen of the State should ponder over. The present generation inherited a proud legacy of community based egalitarian society. The question here is: what kind of society we would leave to our future generations? A society on the brink of collapse or a nation on the throes of extinction? The most worrisome aspect is the gradual decadence of social fabric. With materialism eating up vitals of community life, selfishness and individualism have become the defining characters of present day Manipur. Almost all the ideal social practices and traditions of the past have disappeared in the preceding century.
Manipuris of the Yore
Here, looking back to the history of Manipur a century earlier would help in understanding the contrasting pictures thrown up by modernism in the Manipuri society of yore and today. For example, Manipuris, then, had stable and industrious qualities which the Burmese and Shans did not possess. Such qualities were exonerated by James Johnstone (in Manipur and the Naga Hills): "They are a people of great activity and energy with much of the Japanese aptitude for acquiring new arts". James Johnstone, despite being a British Officer of the post-European Renaissance era was impressed with the Manipuri social structure and qualities of Manipuri people. To quote him again:
Manipur, in old days, required very little to make it a model native state of a unique type, and its people the happiest of the happy. All it required was a better administration of justice, and a few smaller reforms, also more enlightened fiscal regulations such as many European states have not yet attained. Given these, no one would have wished for more. No one asked for high pay; enough to live on, and the system of rewards already in force from time immemorial, satisfied all aspirations. The people were contented and happy and it should have been our aim and object to keep them and leave them so. Shall we have accomplished this desirable object when we hand over the State to its future ruler, that is if it ever does again come under a Native Government? (Manipur and the Naga Hills)
Moreover, the outstanding athletic qualities and sporting skills of the Manipuris did not escape the eyes of James Johnstone. How dear and precious dignity and honour were to Manipuris can be ascertained from his words, "One part of the Manipuri system ever struck me as very admirable, and I tried always to encourage it; that was the system of rewarding services by honorary distinctions. The permission to wear a peculiar kind of turban, coat or feather, or to assume a certain title was more valued than any money reward, and men would exert themselves for years for the coveted distinction." His remark speaks very clearly about the humble taste of Manipuri people and their aspiration, no higher but not the least mean, to do one’s duty and earn the approval of fellow-beings. These remarks by a foreigner about the Manipuri nation would certainly sound unbelievable to a large majority of the present generation of Manipuri people. One simple reason is that most of us do not have the character-traits of our ancestors. Somewhere along the course of its history, the nation has lost its distinctive qualities that stood them firm against all trials and tribulations in the past.
That the accounts of James Johnstone could not be any exaggeration can be inferred from the fact that Manipur earned the distinction of conducting the first democratic election in 1948 (under its own Constitution), perhaps for the first time in the whole of South and South East Asia. The political transformation from monarchy to democracy representing all the ethnic communities was also done without any major hitches. This was a remarkable feat considering the fact that modern (western) education was started only around 1903; that is just 45 years back before the election was held. Going by these facts, we can assume that the vitality and distinctive characters of the Manipuri nation was very much alive till that period.
Merger Agreement & Repercussions
The controversial Merger Agreement, perhaps, heralded the death of the spirit of Manipuri nation in tandem with the loss of its sovereign status. The Agreement had crippling effects on Manipur politically, economically and socially. Yenning in its flight of fantasy has every reason to believe that if Mr. James Johnstone been alive, he would have certainly decried the socio-political decadence of Manipur within the Indian Union. His dream of Manipur growing as a unique nation-state could not be realised. His wish of Manipur coming again under a Native Government did not materialise. One catastrophic effect of the Merger Agreement was that it assassinated the national character of the then sovereign Manipur.
Yes, the Government of India is providing a few thousand crores of rupees every year to keep alive this once vibrant and valiant people. It is only the body that is alive. The national spirit and character is fast ebbing out. Whatever economic base Manipur had during the pre-merger era are no longer operational. And politically controlled by New Delhi, Manipur now exists only as a territory. Manipur as a nation has vanished. The consequences are devastating.
The so-called elected leaders of Manipur understand well that they are not the real rulers of Manipur but New Delhi is. With this understanding, they have passed on the whole responsibility of people’s welfare and development to New Delhi. This is one reason why our elected leaders have been acting in the most unaccountable and irresponsible manner. Unlike those days of being a sovereign kingdom, it seems leaders of the State are clinging to a new found notion that they need not worry about statecraft, neither about safeguarding its boundary from foreign invasions nor about its economic well being. It is now the "duty" of New Delhi, according to the new found notion. What alternative can be there to this form of decadence where the baton of responsibility and accountability is given away to an outsider sitting far away in New Delhi?
As a spinning off effect or rather as a part of the process of decadence that is eating up Manipur, our leaders are also hiding behind the facade of a scapegoat in the form of insurgent groups. They have either New Delhi or the insurgent groups to blame for the misery and decadence swallowing up our State. Interestingly, as a God gifted boon to those at the helms of Government, the numbers of the insurgent outfits continue to multiply with every passing year. Perhaps, as we hear daily at leikai tea stalls, the only "positive" growth one witnesses in the post-merger era is the insurgent outfits! Some even goes to the length of saying that the common man has become a kind of ATM machine for the variety of outfits as well as muscle flexing security personnel to draw money (one needs to travel only up to Moreh to have a first hand experience)!
But we would be totally wrong to selectively blame only the Government, the insurgents or the security personnel for the moral decadence occurring in our society. The common men have also become equally parasitic. The work ethics of the Manipuris, which fascinated Johnstone is missing today. Spoon-feeding culture posited by New Delhi in the post-Merger era seems to have taken out the trait of honesty and diligence from us. Dignity and honour held as the most precious by our ancestors have lost their sheen. On the contrary, a culture of servitude (nurtured by materialism) has taken its roots in the society. This in turn has bred a new notion of practical impossibility of living without New Delhi’s mercy. The transformation is devastatingly dramatic and demoralizing. We need a thorough soul searching. And in this soul search, we cannot leave behind the issue of national character, the loss of which caused the socio-political decadence.
This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, January 10, 2010

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